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Cold snap hangover: Natural gas bills may double

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Temperatures across Minnesota are finally headed upward. And utility bills will be, too.

CenterPoint Energy tells KSTP its Minnesota customers set a record for natural gas use on Monday. Then broke it on Tuesday. Natural gas use is measured in dekatherms. KSTP reports that if the record amount were converted to liquid form, it would exceed 15 million gallons.

When the bill for burning all that gas comes due there may be sticker shock. CenterPoint tells the station it's trying to head off that reaction with an advance alert to customers that their bill may double.

Of course, Minnesota is not alone in using more energy to stay warm during this week's cold wave. Wisconsin is among the other states where utility companies reported new records.

Xcel Energy tried to keep the number down by asking 600 of its Minnesota and North Dakota business customers to reduce natural gas consumption.

Even before this week, use of natural gas has been climbing. An official with Owatonna Public Utilities tells the Owatonna People's Press consumption in December was 16 percent higher than in the same month a year earlier.

In the big picture, the natural gas price crystal ball is a little cloudy right now. Natural gas futures were fluctuating on the commodities market this week, according to Forbes. The magazine reports heavy gas use in December led to a big price hike then and there's an expectation in some quarters that prices will moderate.

CNBC says the outlook was also tempered this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration lowering its forecast for natural gas use in 2014 by 2.2 percent.

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